A career conversation with National Intelligence Deputy Director Charles Luftig

May 8, 2024

In commemoration of the 20-year anniversary of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA), the Ford School and the Weiser Center for Diplomacy hosted University of Michigan alum Charles Luftig, deputy director of National Intelligence for Policy and Capabilities, for a public talk about the future of U.S. intelligence. Earlier in the day, eight students joined Luftig for an intimate conversation over brunch, facilitated by Associate Professor of Practice Javed Ali. After sharing an overview of his career, Luftig answered questions from Ford School students about what it is like working in the intelligence community (IC) and how interested students could get started in the community.

Luftig works at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which serves as an integrator for the IC’s 18 elements—such as the CIA, NSA, and FBI. In his role, he is responsible for ensuring that the IC has the strategies, policies, and capabilities it needs to succeed in a complex threat environment. One of his many roles is leading IC Human Capital, which helps recruit and retain IC officers. 

For students looking to break into an intelligence-focused career, Luftig shared that flexibility is key. 

“I think if you want a specific job in the intelligence community, it is very hard to join the intelligence community,” he said. “If you are willing to do different types of jobs to get into the intelligence community, then it's easier to get in. The most important part is getting your foot in the door and then you have the opportunity to move laterally between departments or agencies.”

Luftig added, “A lot of people get their foot in the door in one place (in the IC), get a sense of who is who and where things are happening, and then move laterally. We have a lot of lateral movement in the Intelligence Community.”

Luftig’s team noted that for anyone interested in an intelligence career, intel.gov and intelligencecareers.gov have a lot of great resources that differentiate each of the agencies and provide background on the many career fields.

Intelligence vs. foreign policy

When asked about the distinctions between intelligence and foreign policy, Luftig noted that the IC collects, analyzes, and delivers foreign intelligence to aid the decision-making of senior U.S. Government leaders. This intelligence is also used to aid the State Department’s diplomatic efforts. 

“One of the functions of the intelligence community is to support policymakers and one of the things that ODNI has a particular focus on is making sure that the intelligence community is well postured to support specific diplomatic initiatives. President Biden was very focused on creating the quad in Southeast Asia, for example: the U.S., Australia, India, and [Japan],” he said. “… It's useful if we can have intelligence exchanges with those countries so that there's a common factual understanding so that when the leaders come together, they receive a briefing about the world that takes into account how we're all seeing it. We advance diplomacy by ensuring that we're doing some of the structural work that supports a lot of those conversations.”

Students were curious about the political aspects of working in national security and how a presidential transition might affect intelligence work.

Luftig explained that the IC values analytic objectivity and delivering unbiased intelligence to inform decision-making from the nation’s leaders. He also pointed to the IC’s good working relationship with the two legislative committees that oversee the IC activities—the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

“The Senate and House Intelligence Committees also try to work in a nonpartisan way. That gets harder when cameras are on and we have open hearings. But particularly behind closed doors, everyone is working together,” he said. “In fact, for a while, I didn’t realize which of the staffers was on which side of the committee because everyone is working towards the same goals."